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IMBA Attends National Scenic and Historic Trails Conference

This blog comes to us from Jeremy Fancher, IMBA Interim Government Affairs Director.

Patrick Kell, Southwest Regional Director (above right), and I (above left) recently represented IMBA at the National Scenic and Historic Trails Conference in Tucson, AZ. This event is presented biennially by the Partnership for the National Trails System and was a great opportunity to interact with representatives from state and federal land management agencies, as well as many trails groups, including the Backcountry Horseman, the American Hiking Society, The Partnership for the National Trails System and various trail associations that support these trails.

It was especially noteworthy that the conference was held in Tucson, which is home to the Arizona National Scenic Trail Association. The Arizona Trail, the youngest of the National Scenic Trails, was conceived with the intent of all non-motorized users being able to experience its range of ecosystems, history and opportunities for adventure. This inclusive vision resulted in a 800-mile trail that is maintained and cherished by a group that is, "as diverse as the trail itself."

Patrick was one of three presenters who led a 90-minute workshop on how diverse non-motorized user groups can work cooperatively to develop, maintain and use singletrack trails. We discussed the growth in mountain biking and the appeal to young people and families, and how good trail design, signage and mapping can minimize conflict or even the perception of conflict.

The workshop was supported by Pivot Cycles, an IMBA corporate supporter based in Arizona that supplied us with bikes as educational tools for the workshop. We used the Pivot Phoenix downhill bike and the Pivot Mach 429 Carbon trail bike (pictured above) to help explain the spectrum of experiences that mountain bikers are seeking. Big thanks to Pivot Cycles for its continued support of IMBA!

While there were no resolutions reached, the conference sparked several very important conversations, with excellent opportunities for beneficial followup discussions. A few of the key takeaways from the conference follow:

  • Many of the organizations we talked with are very supportive of including mountain bicycles on the trails that they manage or steward. There are many stories of successful cooperation and collaboration that have not been told, so we will attempt to highlight some of them in coming months.

  • All trails are local. Several land mangers that we spoke with were generally very cognizant of the fact that any particular trail may be a segment of a National Scenic or Historic trail, but that trail also plays a role in its particular community. This fits well with IMBA’s position that we don't need to approach access to National Scenic and Historic trails as an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather as valuable components of the local or regional trail systems that may be necessary for connectivity, or offer a unique opportunity to experience remote landscapes without creating additional impacts of duplicate trails.

  • The agencies are interested in continuting the conversation. There's a significant opportunity to work with them through through the Federal Interagency Council on Trails (FICT), to develop guidelines for assesing factors like local use, legislative intent and purpose, trail design, resource capacity, and other evaluative criteria and assessment considerations to help guide managers in making well-reasoned use decisions.

  • The last—and maybe the most significant—takeaway was an appreciation for how much common ground IMBA shares with other trail associations. They highly value trails that immerse users in landscapes and offer enriching experiences — that’s exactly what IMBA and many mountain bikers want. The challenge is that most National Scenic and Historic trails were envisioned and enabled before mountain biking was a common activity. With that in mind, we should approach access to these trails from the perspective of a relative newcomer who has much to offer, but is respectful of the efforts of those who came before us.

For some, the prospect of opening portions of National Historic and Scenic Trails to bicycling raises subtantial fears about diminishing the trail experiences that they value. IMBA doesn’t believe that including bicyclists will substantially alter the experience of using these trails, but it is important for us to mindful of that perception. In order to become welcome additions to these communities, we must demonstrate that we are eager to join other user groups and work with them in a spirit of partnership. We can do this in many ways and should be open to all solutions that are proposed.

We look forward to working with both the agencies and the trail associations that we met with in Tucson. I’m confident we will find pragmatic solutions that are inclusive of bicycles and preserve the other user’s experiences on National Scenic and Historic Trails. Long live long rides!

— Jeremy Fancher is the interim director of IMBA's Government Affairs department

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